Martha Whitworth was the daughter of a Louisville, Kentucky teamster and staunch Republican named John Whitworth. In 1892, she married physician Charles Whitworth Vimont, the son of Lewis Thomas Vimont of Louisville. 


The Vimont family had been the topic of wagging tongues in 1864 after a quarrel between acting regiment commander Col. Thomas T. Vimont, Lewis’s relative, and Major William W. Bradley of the 7th Kentucky Cavalry. Vimont called Bradley an “abolitionist.” Both drew revolvers. Vimont never got off a shot. A court martial panel acquitted Bradley of murder charges.


Charles and Martha had one son, Charles, born January 25, 1895. The couple moved to Chicago. The husband died of typhoid fever, complicated by appendicitis, on February 1, 1903.


In 1905, the widow Vimont and her son acquired a government homestead on Rosebud Creek, Montana. Mrs. Vimont met and married a railroad worker named Walter McNeil of Forsythe, Montana, on May 7, 1907.


On October 1, 1907, she sent a telegram to her relative Bettie Tom Vimont. McNeil had died in a railroad accident.


 Bettie Vimont, never married, had a story of her own, published in many newspapers, like the lyrics to a bad country song.  A rejected suitor from her youth left her a substantial bequest after his death, but she refused to take a penny. 


Martha McNeil accused the Northern Pacific Railroad of negligence, according to Probate records filed in1907.


The pregnant Mrs. McNeil went to live with relatives, in Kentucky. She delivered Walter David McNeil on May 24, 1908.


Between 1908 and 1928, Martha McNeil struggled to make ends meet. She worked as a cook at a Washington State Boy Scout camp and as a government school teacher and nurse in St. Joseph, Missouri, and northwest Washington. 


Charles and his bride reared a family in Montana. Martha McNeil and son Walter lived in Anacortes, Washington.  She lived a quiet life until she enrolled with a matchmaker service around 1928.


She corresponded with John M. Arnott, an immigrant from Scotland known in Kennicott and McCarthy before he settled in Cordova in the 1920s, working for the Copper River & Northwestern Railroad.


Arnott apparently swooned over a photo of McNeil, then 58. Reporters later described the widow as “highly educated, and rather striking in appearance, with snow-white hair and dignified manner.”


She moved to Alaska after her son Walter’s wedding in 1930.


The couple settled in a cabin in Strelna north of Cordova. In early September 1931, Arnott consumed his own homemade beer and retired to bed.  At the time, the Alaska Territory had a so-called “bone dry law.”


A single gunshot broke the stillness.


Mrs. Arnott crossed a creek and summoned men from a railroad bunkhouse.


Arnott’s co-workers searched for clues, handling the weapon and destroying the crime scene. 


A company physician named Wilson came from Kennecott to inspect the body. He observed Arnott on his back with fingers interlocked behind his head. A single 9 mm. bullet from a German Luger went through the victim’s left lung, severed the aorta, and imbedded in the spinal cord.


A coroner’s jury debated whether he died by suicide, an accidental shooting, or was plugged by Mrs. Arnott or a person unknown. 


The jury nixed the suicide possibility. Arnott, said the jury report, “came to his death as a result of a gunshot wound inflicted by another person than himself.”


The defendant was arrested and pleaded not guilty. The court appointed L.V. Ray and A.J. Dimond to defend her.


A first trial ended in a hung jury, seven to five for acquittal. 


Prosecutor W. H. Eddy called for a second trial in Anchorage. 


“Mail-order Bride is First White Woman in Alaska Murder trial,” blared a Fresno Bee headline on February 1, 1932. “Natives and whites thronged the courthouse here as the murder trial opened.” 


Mrs. Arnott chose not to testify.  A guilty verdict could result in her execution.


The jury of five women and seven men convened for 18 hours before returning a verdict of not guilty.


Now a free woman, widow Martha Arnott left Alaska. She paid $25,000 to Mount Vernon Investment company for a large tract of land, according to Skagit County Courthouse records of July 10, 1933. That sum was a fortune during the Great Depression, valued at around $604,000 today.


She died at Harborview Hospital in Seattle in January 1940. Her survivors were Walter McNeil, then stationed with the Coast Guard in San Diego, and Charles Vimont of Montana, along with numerous grandchildren. 


There was no mention of three late husbands, nor her checkered past in Cordova, in her obituary.